Hartford, Conn. – Last fall, Trinity College Without Borders (TCWB)
, a new student organization on campus, set out to build a community garden next to Trinity’s neighborhood technology center, TrinfoCafé, on Broad Street. As the garden was taking shape, TCWB partnered with Summ
er of Solutions (SoS) Hartford
, a youth-run non-profit group, for a summer of fresh produce.
Emilie Dressaire, assistant professor of engineering and faculty advisor for TCWB, challenged Trinity students to apply their skills to poverty alleviation projects – both local and abroad – and Gary Williams ‘12 and Roarke McCormick ’13 initiated a plan to bring urban farming to Trinity. The two students pursued the project with a goal to promote healthy and affordable eating, to educate youth on green initiatives, and to build positive community interactions.
“The students worked very hard to get this going, meeting some frustration along the way,” Dressaire said about the initial stages of the process. But the momentum has continued to build and Williams and McCormick recruited other Trinity students in the spring semester.
The team grew to nine members, with Brendan Bader ‘14, Julian Brown ‘13, Nick Campbell ‘13, Brett Cde Baca ‘14, Matthew DelConte ‘12, Eddy Franca ‘14, and Matthew Noble ’13, contributing new skills to the growing: applying for grants, designing the garden, working with College administrators to find land for the project, testing for heavy metals in the soil, and securing proper partnerships for future programs.
The students received significant support from the Facilities Department at Trinity, hung posters around the neighborhood, went door-to-door recruiting community members, visited several community gardens in the area and met with numerous non-profit organizations.
After overcoming several hurdles, ground was finally broken on the project in time for summer gardening. “The day they picked up the supplies and got to work with the community was a great day.” Dressaire said.
“It was fulfilling seeing everyone with a big smile on their face, putting aside their own problems to benefit others,” Williams said about the day the garden went in.
“We hear so much about the community, and the community hears so much about Trinity that this time spent building something together was extremely valuable - we got to put faces and names on what usually remain anonymous groups,” Dressaire said, adding that the project will continue to grow for as long as the interest remains high.
Williams secured a key partnership with SoS Hartford, who became heavily involved after being connected by Jason Rojas, community relations director at Trinity. SoS Hartford engages and trains young people in urban farming in Hartford and surrounding areas, responsible for the creation and ongoing maintenance of four different gardens during their summer program.
With the Trinity students away this summer, SoS Hartford managed and expanded the garden on Broad Street over the summer, in addition to three other gardens the group maintains in the area. Trinity students will assume responsibility for the garden at the start of the fall semester.
“We’ll be picking weeds, and people will walk by and ask to join,” said 23-year-old Lamar Jones, part of the SoS crew. “I didn’t know it would be this fun.”
“It’s a lot of responsibility,” added 19-year-old Kevin Rodriguez, a program leader for SoS. “It requires a lot of patience.”
“You don’t see this around Hartford,” said 16-year-old Damian Casillas, who is part of the SoS crew and learned how to garden from his mother before joining the project. “We’re seeing [gardens] pop up more and more now, which is great.”
Jennifer Roach, a program leader with SoS and an environmental science student at Wesleyan University, oversees four urban gardens in the area this summer, including the TCWB garden, and has spearheaded ongoing efforts to energize area youth. So far, she said the gardens have involved or fed more than 300 Hartford and Trinity community members.
“This is a matter of economic and food justice,” she said. “We’re looking for a way to promote better functioning food system in Connecticut that involves community.”
McCormick echoed those sentiments.
“Obtaining fresh fruits and vegetables in Hartford is time consuming at best, usually difficult and sometimes impossible for people who don't have access to a car or other form of transportation,” he said.
Williams and McCormick watched their idea grow, and not just in zucchinis and basil, which were turned into zucchini bread and pesto at community potluck meals. The TCWB community garden was supported by several Hartford groups including SoS Hartford, Billings Forge and the Knox Park Foundation. Trinity administrators were also instrumental, among them President James F. Jones, Jr.; Paul Mutone, vice president for finance and operations; Rena Fraden, dean of faculty and vice president for academic affairs; Carlos Espinosa, director of TrinfoCafé; as well as the The Center for Urban and Global Studies (CUGS) and the Facilities Department at Trinity.
“It really brought a smile to my face thinking about how filling wooden boxes with dirt has truly transformed into a beautiful community space,” Williams said after driving by the site recently and seeing the progress.
Roach, who led fundraising efforts, which included everything from grant writing and door-to-door cookie sales, said she plans to continue to expand the program. Dressaire said that TCWB students will reach out to area schools and after-school programs to increase participation, and will also seek partnerships.
Watch a student-created video on the urban farming project initiative in Hartford here. For photos, click here.